Twelve Recommendations on How to Prepare Yourself for Confession

By Hieromonk Agapius (Golub)

Confession is a sacrament of reconciliation of a man with God, which occurs in the Church. Through the sin a person losses the Kingdom of Christ, shown in numerous sacraments of the Church. Thanks to repentance, which makes a person reborn, we have an opportunity to enter the spiritual life of the Church again. When a priest is accepting someone’s repentance, he becomes a witness on behalf of the Church and at the same time a guarantor who states that this person was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Luke 15:32). What is more, a priest proclaims before God that this person is going to reconcile with the Church. At the end of Confession, a priest reads a special prayer, in which he asks God to unite the person with the Church – just like the broken brunch which can take on the tree and bear fruit.

It is better to discuss the frequency of Confession with your parish priest. He serves in the church you usually attend, and this is why it is exactly him who should know about your spiritual life.

Anyway, if you confess from time to time but do not analyze regularly your condition in terms of the New Testament, then your Confession is not full. The less attentive we are the worse we realize our sins.

Here are the general tips for preparing for Confession:

1. You should confess everything you have committed. To do this you need to think about it and recall everything in advance. The newcomers can use special spiritual literature such as “The Experience of Confession” by Archimandrite John (Krestyankin). Such literature can help to recall something we have forgotten or have not considered a sin.

2. Confession means that we spell out certain sins. What is not spelled out is not healed. And this “spelling” begins even before your Confession. It is an inner dialogue with your conscience in terms of the Gospel. On the other hand, if a person begins to confess with the words “I’m sinful, just like all the others”, that means he has not prepared for the sacrament, and he does not recognize the sins of his life.

Another problem is that a person learns that something in his life is a sin, but he himself does not recognize that as a sin, and does not see the point of confessing such things. The thing is that in such case a person lies when he says, “I repent”. Hiding is not an option. It would be better to say about this to the priest: “I have learnt that from the Christian point of view this is a sin, but I still cannot understand this with my own mind”. Then the priest can help to make certain steps, which will help you to recognize your sin. Perhaps, he will decide to accept your Confession as it is and let you partake of the Holy Communion so that your soul can be warmed by the sacraments, by the meeting with Christ.

3. It is better to confess to your local priest, especially if it is not another “regular” Confession, but the first Confession in your life or in a long time. It is much easier to confess to a priest from a far monastery, because you possibly will not see him in the future. However, it is much harder to tell everything the priest from the local parish. This means you are ready to overcome your pain and shame, to drop your “shell” off.  This will be the opposite of what Adam has done. The process of our healing starts only when we make this step of revealing ourselves.

4. At Confession we should avoid general phrases such as “I have sinned by condemnation, negligence, deception” and so on. The meaning of these words is too abstract, which means that one can hide anything behind them.  Under “condemnation” one can understand just fleeting thoughts, while the other one falls asleep and wakes up condemning his colleague or supervisor and suffers from this himself as well. I think, there is a big difference.

5. The best way to prepare for Confession so that it becomes more specific, is self-examination. If a Christian is getting used to such an everyday analysis and begins to analyze each day from the spiritual view point, his Confession becomes full.

6. If you are not experienced enough, then you can put down your Confession. Making such notes is quite useful for it helps to avoid unnecessary words and details while speaking. At the same time, our memory works better when we write, and thus it becomes easier for us to analyze our life. The text of your Confession will help you not to get lost or to forget something you want to confess. As a rule, the necessity of such notes declines with time.

7.  The sins which are most difficult to speak about should be spoken at first. I think, it is clear that hiding the sins at Confession causes harm to our souls. Sometimes people hide them indirectly. For example, one can confess a grave sin with general words using mild synonyms (“got involved with a woman” instead of recognizing it as “fornication”) or puts it between typical sins (“slander, impatience… adultery, gluttony”). You see, a person puts one of the most destructive sins in one line with the sins, to which the priest is usually less attentive. Perhaps, this is exactly what this person is counting on. But this is a slyness caused by the false hope that the sacrament will “work automatically”; that there will be no need to blush, that the priest will not ask for details to find the root of the sin, that he will not demand to acknowledge the sin unconditionally. Such Confession will not heal your soul. It will weight you down at best, and thus it will make you come once again for a true Confession. In the worst case, a person will “sedate” his conscience.

Unfortunately, people often come to Confession with exactly that aim – to sedate their conscience. To set free from the questions it asks them. They want it happen easily and without any difficulty. But my purpose at Confession is not to sedate your conscience, but to awake it.

8. Do not justify yourself. When you confess you have been aggressive towards your family members, do not say that they have caused your anger with their behavior. My feelings are my feelings. This is my responsibility. It depends on me how to react on this or that event in my life.

9. Confession needs from you to be ready for penitential work. The sins, and especially the grave sins, will not fall behind. In my opinion, it is a mistake when a priest accepts too easily the Confession in which the deadly sins were eliminated. Quite often, the following situations can take place. A woman confessed the sin of abortion, but she did not receive any penance. Soon her conscience begins to torment her again. She repeats this sin again and again at every Confession, but she cannot find peace. Why? Deadly sins are just like cancer, and in this case, we need chemotherapy. We need work a lot to heal ourselves. Usually I suggest to read a short penitential prayer for committed abortions. At the same time, a person should make bows and pray the Lord that He forgive both of the child’s partners for their sin, as well as pray for the unborn children.

In addition to this one can visit hospitals and serve there as a volunteer to help other people to avoid this dreadful decision. One can simply visit children’s hospice and read the children different bedtime stories. And then such work will help to heal your wound and get free. What is more, it will become the proof of your sincerity.

10. You should not solve your life problems at Confession. Confession is a sacrament of reconciliation of a man with God, but not the sacrament of guidance. A priest should not interfere with people’s personal affairs until it concerns the issues of sin and virtues. To buy a car or not, how to divide the inheritance between the relatives and so on – such problems should not be solved at Confession. The aim of the priest as a pastor is to help a Christian to learn how to coordinate his life circumstances with the Holy Gospel.

Of course, it is possible to ask for advice. But such conversation should occur outside the sacrament of Confession. Another important point is the following: if a priest gives you a piece of “spiritual” or “everyday” advice, it does not mean you must obey it blindly. If the pastor does not know much about certain circumstances and the peculiarities of the person, he can be wrong. He can recommend, but it is up to you to decide whether to follow his advice or not.

11. Do not speak about third parties at Confession. Sometimes, when people begin to explain the details of certain sins, begin to gossip about other people. This is a mockery of Confession. It is not that “They make me feel aggrieved”, but “I feel aggrieved”; not “They annoy me”, but “I get annoyed”. What is more, outer circumstances do not provoke us, but help us to reveal our passions. Thanks to this, I can see my weaknesses and fight against them. Otherwise, they would “sleep” in me, and I would not be able to notice them. Then at the Last Judgement, I would see that there is so much sin in my soul. But it would be too late, because the time of repentance has passed.

12. Sin is an illness. Healing this illness is the work of the whole life.

There is no case when it is impossible to repent. A soul can be tough, but there is a disciplinary system of fasts, home prayers and other church prescriptions, which help to awake the soul. There are many examples when people confessed and partook of the Holy Communion without any feelings. With time, their souls were warmed by the light of God’s grace, and that led them repent for real.

The path to God is open. There is no sin, which cannot be forgiven or healed. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Hebrews, 13:8).